The Continued Debasing of CPAC
CPAC was once the conservative Woodstock; now, it's its Fyre Festival
Once upon a time, the Conservative Political Action Conference was the must-attend event for conservatives from across the country. Conservatives came to the Washington-area to meet, discuss ideas, and plan strategies for bringing conservative principles from across the country.
CPAC stopped being that some time ago.
When I first attend my CPAC in 2000, the event was a smaller, two-day event that brought together an intimate group of conservatives together. There were a lot of college students trying to get involved. The speakers were a combination of real conservative politicians and conservative intellectual heavyweights. The vendors were legitimate conservative organizations, some with considerable cache.
By the time I began attending CPAC regularly in 2012, the mood was beginning to change. The vendors were a little more interested in your money than in the movement. The speakers were starting to reflect the mood of the times, reflecting more of the good and the bad of the Tea Party ethos. Those changes continued accelerating once the event moved to National Harbor in 2013, and even more so after Donald Trump was elected President.
This year CPAC is happening, albeit in Orlando instead of suburban Washington due to COVID restrictions. Given how little care attendees have for Greater Washington and its environs, I doubt that CPAC will ever return. And this year’s featured speaker list, in particular, shows that CPAC is fully abandoning whatever pretense it had of conservative principle to become just another arm of the nationalist-populist grifter wing of the party.
None of this is a surprise of course. Matt Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union that organizes CPAC, has overseen the debasement of CPAC for some years now. Schlapp is a notorious Trump apologist and has defended Trump’s rather non-conservative nature for some time now. He has also allowed CPAC to become appealing only to an ever-shrinking portion of the conservative universe. Why else would the theme of CPAC this year be “America Uncanceled”, a clear signal that CPAC has abandoned any pretext of believing in anything resembling an intellectual, ideologically-based version of conservatism?
The most obvious confirmation of the abandonment of principled conservative is the fact that ex-President Trump is speaking this Sunday. Trump, who was never a conservative and abandoned all pretense of conservatism through his post-election histrionic, is allegedly going to use his speech to declare that he remains in total control of the Republican Party. This of course is tremendously detrimental to the Republican Party and the many actual conservatives who want to move on from the disastrous Trump years.
But Trump is hardly the only problematic speaker on the agenda, which includes;
Trumpist members of Congress attending include self-promoting Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who has prioritized media messaging over policy; Rep. Matt Gaetz, who thinks he is the arbiter of conservatism; and putsch apologist Lauren Boebert;
Former New York Police Commission Bernard Kerik, who pleaded guilty to eight felony tax and false statement charges (though was involved in the hilarious Four Seasons Press Conference);
Gonzo journalist James O’Keefe, who often overpromises and underdelivers on his investigations;
Kurt Schlichter, a long-time self-professed online conservative who became one of the most loyal of Trump lickspittles;
Charlie Kirk from Turning Point USA, a group that raises a lot of money but provides little practical electoral support (well, beyond online troll farms).
The full list of speakers is a toxic brew of Trump apologists, has-beens, and never-weres. Loyalty to Trump is the most important ticket to access; it certainly isn’t or achievement, ideological heft, or adherence to conservative principle.
At least Young Pharaoh was kicked to the curb, but it begs the question as to why the hell somebody with a history of anti-semitic remarks and QAnon conspiracies was ever invited in the first place.
The agenda leaves a lot to be desired too. Here’s a list of some of the topics:
“Tolerance Reimagined: The Angry Mob and Violence in Our Streets”;
“Bill of Rights, Liberty, and Cancel Culture”, assuming that Ted Cruz doesn’t get lost in Cancun again;
A seven-part “Protecting Elections” seminar including segments titled “Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence”, “The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It”, “Failed States (PA, GA, NV, oh my!), and “They Told Ya So: The Signs Were Always There”;
“The Real Cost of Tuition: Debots, Dummies, and Distanced”
“The Left’s Assault on Free People: How Government, Big Tech, and Media Are Colluding to Deprive Us of Our Humanity; Big Tech, Big Media, Big Government, Big Control”;
“The Way Forward: Unlocking Our Churches, Our Voices, and Our Social Media Accounts”;
“Who’s the Boss, Where’s My Applesauce? Who’s Really Running the Biden Administration”.
I think my favorite panel is “All Debts Are Off: Why You Should Care About the National Debt” featuring a panel of three Washington insiders who applauded Trump’s explosion of the national debt. But the most ludicrous is “Tough Love: An Assessment from the Republican Party.” How can a group so dedicated to promoting the fraud that the election was stolen, is so dedicated to promoting a bastardized left-wing version of conservatism, and lives in a different reality than most of the GOP in any position to provide anything resembling an accurate assessment of the GOP?
It’s clear that the American Conservative Union and, by extension CPAC, has given up on conservatism. Over the course of Matt Schlapp’s time as President of the ACU, conservatism has become less and less important to CPAC and its agenda. Don’t get me wrong; CPAC always had a soft spot for some of the eccentrics and cranks among the movement. But it seems like the eccentrics, the cranks, and especially the grifters are the ones who are now given pride of place ahead of the actual conservatives. Conservatism has been replaced by conspiracy. Ideology has been replaced by iconography. Love of freedom has been replaced by fealty to a leader. Americanism has been replaced by anger.
CPAC was once regarded as a conservative version of Woodstock. Now, it’s more like its version of the Fyre Festival, a poorly conceived train wreck that will do more long-term damage to conservatism than it’s actually worth.